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  Curled Up With a Good Book
An interview with Alice Hoffman, *Survival Lessons*

 

Survival Lessons grew out of your experiences as a breast cancer survivor, but you didn’t write it in the immediate aftermath of your diagnosis and treatment. Why wait 15 years to share your insights?

A: Memoir is so personal, and this book is especially intimate -- it took me all those years to really process my experience as a breast cancer patient.

Rather than retracing your recovery process, you’ve chosen to write about the things you “would have wanted to hear” after your cancer diagnosis. What is the most powerful piece of advice you wish you had been given?

A: I've been given great advice by so many people -- the best may have been to live every day as if it was a little life, trying to include a bit of everything, including work and spending time with people you love.

You write that friendships may shift over the course of an illness; there may be “before” friends and “after” friends. Did you observe a parallel shift in your fiction? Were you drawn to a different perspective in fiction after your diagnosis?

A: Yes. I am much more interested in survivorship -- my last novel, THE DOVEKEEPERS, is one example. It's the story of the siege at Masada. If I hadn't read there had been survivors, I don't think I could have written the novel.

What was behind your decision to include real-life activities like how-to instructions for baking chocolate brownies and knitting a bee-hive hat?

A: I included real- life activities because those were just the sort of things I ignored and was always too busy for. It was a lesson for myself, to take time and enjoy making things. In my opinion, the brownie recipe is the best ever.

You’re a prolific author, and you mention in Survival Lessons that work can be an important part of recovery for some people. Were you actively engaged in writing projects in the months following your diagnosis?

A: Yes, I wrote the entire time I was in treatment. My novel THE RIVER KING was written during that time, and I always think of that book as a sort of life raft.

Your book is full of hope and humor—who wouldn’t want to spend more time watching Johnny Depp movies?—and yet you don’t deny the very real effects of trauma on people’s lives. Was it challenging to keep that balance?

A: I thought of my grandmother's voice -- she gave me good advice and even in the darkest times she couldn't help being funny. I just followed her lead.

Much of your advice speaks directly to medical patients and trauma survivors, but it seems that most people could improve their lives by talking to pink-haired teenagers and taking a nap when they want to. Do you think the message is also universal, something everyone can use in their everyday life?

A: I do think the message of SURVIVAL LESSONS is universal. No matter what trauma or difficulties one is facing, the message is the same. Love is the answer.


Alice Hoffman is the author of 21 novels, including The Dovekeepers and the forthcoming The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Her inspirational nonfiction, Survival Lessons, was just released by Algonquin Books.


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